Re-gifting Grace

“Grace and Awe,” ©Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with permission.

©2014 Lynn Abbott

Her physical pain increased as she approached heaven’s threshold.  I felt especially helpless as I cared for her during those last 24 hours.

Mom was losing her battle with ovarian cancer, and I knew there wasn’t much more that I could do except to make her comfortable.

A business trip required that my husband be away that week. However, prior to his departure, my husband thoughtfully offered to move our mattress downstairs to mom’s room so that I could rest as I kept my 24 hour vigil.

He worried about leaving at such a time, and so I did my best to reassure him. Then, I bravely waved a cheery “goodbye” despite the fact that my heart was breaking.

My best girlfriend and most gracious mother lay dying.  That night, she was particularly restless.

Throughout the early morning hours, I tried to keep her comfortable by administering pain medication and tending to her other needs.

I told her again and again how very much I loved her.  Time was short.

I sobbed when she drew her last breath.  And my then 11-year-old son curled up on the threshold of her door…

We were devastated. One of the most merciful individuals that I have ever known had left our earthly lives.

On a bright Sunday afternoon in June, her light had flickered and then, blown out.  And for me, darkness closed in.  I felt lost, alone… and wept as only an orphan does.

Her pillow was still warm when the telephone rang.

“Hello,” I answered in a faltering voice.

“Hey, is that you, Lynn?” came the familiar tone of my husband’s friend, the local director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  “How are you managing?”

My mother had died just 30 minutes prior.  And yet, the hands and feet of Jesus were on the ground, ready to light a way through that difficult hour.

Although our friend had no idea that my mother had just died, God did.

And God’s timing is perfect.

But our friend did more than call…he mobilized the troops.  In fact, a local pastor and youth pastor stood on my doorstep the following day.

Since we were fairly new to the area, I hadn’t met either of them previously.  However, they knew both my husband and our friend. But more importantly, they understood God’s gift of grace.

Yes, in the midst of that valley of shadow, grace glimmered.

You see, they did more than just listen.  They went beyond sympathetic words.  They didn’t just say “‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” (James 2:16a).

They actually asked what they could do to help.  And although I was a little bleary, I did know that I did not want to spend another night in the room where mom had died. Heartbreak haunted every corner there.

That’s right. Those two guys willingly moved the mattress back upstairs.  I have never been so grateful for two strong backs in all my life.

It probably didn’t seem like much to either of them.  But it meant the world to me.

It was a simple act of kindness; yet, for me,  it represented so much more.  In a very practical way, they had lifted my burden.

I felt a little like the paralytic man in Mark 2.    His friends carried him to Jesus; after all,  he was physically broken and unable to get there on his own.

When the crowds nearly made the quest impossible, the man’s friends didn’t give up.

They thought creatively.   They lowered their friend through the roof, and Christ healed him.

In a similar way,  Abba’s children had lifted me.

Such goodness and grace are the hallmark of authentic Christian community.  And during this time of year, we all become keenly aware of giving to those in need.

Each Christmas, grace takes center stage.  It calls through bells and buckets on street corners.  It resonates through music.  It surrounds the season and lights our world.

Yet, when I think of those dark days that followed my mother’s death, I am also reminded that grace is frequently conveyed by unexpected means.

It is announced in the sky above a shepherd’s watch rather than proclaimed in majestic and courtly halls.

It chooses a young, seemingly ordinary woman to carry the King of all creation.  Or it enters softly through small acts of compassion.

Christ walked in humble obscurity.  Nevertheless, His Light shines bright for a dark and grieving world.

He went beyond offering sympathetic words; the Word incarnate came running to embrace all of Abba’s prodigals.

And authentic Christian family does the same, (1 John 3:18).

Jesus knows, though, that it is easy for us to fall into the “elder brother” trap.   We expect much from our spiritual family even though our very human brothers and sisters regularly disappoint us.

Maybe, this is one reason that Jesus included the elder brother in the parable.  Or perhaps, it’s why Jesus spoke so much about our need to forgive one another, or why the command to forgive is repeated throughout the New Testament (Ephesians 4: 31-32).

Siblings frustrate us at times, and we are tempted to rehearse wrongs and to withdraw. Christ, however, calls me to connect.

He asks me to let go of my petty resentments, my frustration, my self-pity, and to see beyond my own heartbreak. The elder brother is invited not only to attend but also to celebrate his prodigal brother’s homecoming.

And Jesus’ parable assures me that Abba runs to receive the broken when they return home.  Grace does that.  It doesn’t stand apart.  Grace gets personal.  Grace gives.

But the gift extends beyond family. Jesus also teaches me that grace, like that found in the heart of a Samaritan, should motivate me to stop by the side of the road and to offer help to those outside of my comfort zone.

Having learned first to give in an imperfect spiritual family, you and I are able to make time for our “neighbor.”

Uh, huh. Grace first sprouts within Christian community, grows stronger, and then, spreads throughout “Jerusalem”, “Judaea,” and to the farthest parts of our world.

But sadly,  despite the joy of Christmas, when the season passes, my lamplight tends to sputter.

Like the religious leaders in Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan, I allow busy-ness to consume me. Preoccupied, I look neither to the right nor the left, and more often than I’d like to admit, I miss seeing my neighbor’s needs.

It’s easy to forget the difference that making a simple phone call or carrying a mattress can make.

Fortunately,  God gives grace for his preoccupied prodigals, too. And He gently reminds me of both His past and present kindness toward me.

Undeserved. Unexpected. Unconditional Grace.

Once in darkness and without hope, I heard Abba’s call,  the same song that, long ago, filled a bright night near Bethlehem.

Of course, I’m not perfect. I’m far from that. Since the day God’s grace rescued me, I’ve certainly needed daily doses of His mercy.

In return for such a gift, I am invited to celebrate– to set Abba’s candle of grace in the window and to warmly welcome others home.

Although I often fail miserably as Abba’s ambassador, I do try to pass along God’s amazing grace.  And in this instance, the re-gifting is better than any gifting I could do on my own.

Thankfully, despite my blunders, my Father keeps on giving: “The LORD’s loving-kindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23) and ” If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself,” (2 Timothy 2:13).

Yeah, Abba adopted this orphan, and if truth be told, for the most part, I simply tag along on His mission of mercy.

Yet, as I lift His light for others who walk through dark valleys, I hope to resemble Him in some small way.

After all, His love never gives up on me.  And His grace is for all time.   Not just for a season.

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift,” ~Ephesians 4:7

Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed…Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns…”  ~Philippians 2: 14, 15b-16a (The Message)

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”~ Romans 2:4